Goodluck Ebele Jonathan is not a bad man. He may have appeared to be overwhelmed by daunting circumstances confronting his administration — especially by the pro-democracy groups queuing up behind the expected messiah of the time, General Muhammadu Buhari — but generally he had as good a heart as anyone who has ever tenanted Aso Rock since 1999.
In the wisdom of those testy days, Jonathan could not put any foot right. Whenever Boko Haram terrorists seemed to be having an upper hand, President Jonathan would be dubbed inept, a total misfit, a co-conspirator and ally of terrorists. But whenever he tried to rise to the occasion, for example, by bringing in military contractors or mercenaries who quickly changed the tide and set the tails of the terrorists on fire, he would be dubbed a killer of Muslims, a genocidal monster.
In those days, if you flipped the coin the result would be the same. Head: Jonathan would lose. Tail: Jonathan’s critics would win. An anthem was made of the fact that Boko Haram was controlling 10 local governments in the country. When, in desperation, he followed the unconventional and ill-advised path of giving raw cash to individuals to help import the required arms and armaments from South Africa, he was roundly condemned and lampooned.
His attempt to rein in 10 million urchins left out of civilisation by an uncaring system which consigned them to a life of beggars in the guise of an Almajiri system, was ridiculed. The schools built all over the North to cater for children were abandoned and allowed to go into disrepair. It has since become known that the almajiri constitute the ready army from which Boko Haram routinely recruits. We may have jettisoned Jonathan’s initiative, but what have we replaced it with — now that the toes of perfidious religiosity buried in makeshift tombs of hypocrisy are sticking out of the grave?
Then the 2015 elections happened and opened eyes and minds as never before imaginable.
Suddenly, all the negative vibes about Jonathan evaporated the moment he conceded defeat in the 2015 elections, confounding both his family members and most implacable critics alike. It was only in the aftermath of that concession that many erstwhile critics permitted themselves the luxury of considering the possibility of some noble qualities in the much vilified president.
In the last seven years, Jonathan has basked in the superstardom associated with being a continental role model. African leaders are not famous for conceding defeat. It is more likely that, if he can get away with it, an African leader will rather die in office than watch power slip from his hands. So, all of the inadequacies of President Jonathan melted into nothingness when he demonstrated that Nigeria’s cohesion was more important to him than the tenancy of Aso Rock. Nobody can take that distinction away from him. History will, on that account, make Jonathan smell of roses.
But no chronicler will ever forget that Jonathan was the much touted eagle that fed on vegetables, unlike other members of the Carnivora order. He was the first doctorate holder to be president but he left many of us who rooted for him stranded in disbelief as he tried to navigate the treacherous waters of our peculiar kind of politics — a situation made more daunting by the fact that the mild-mannered man had never been in the trenches of protest or activism, either as a student or as a worker.
The fact that Jonathan is regularly an eminent guest of several international organisations concerned with peace and conflict resolution, says a lot about the esteem in which he is held worldwide. At home, with events that have happened in the last seven years — especially in the anti-terror war, Jonathan is no longer looking as bad as he otherwise might have appeared.
It is often said that a wife may not appreciate the worth of her first husband until she tries a second one. Now, Nigerians are making comparisons with the advantage of hindsight.
One reader sent me a short note within the week asking what I thought would have been the media reaction if the attack on the Abuja-Kaduna train had happened during Jonathan’s tenure. My answer: Of course, the president would have been taken to the cleaners!
I shudder to think of the full extent of protests that would have attended a situation where bandits actually invite doctors to take delivery of a pregnant hostage and proceed to send out the photograph of the newborn taken with an Infinix Ai camera. Imagine being born into captivity!
The birth of every new addition to humanity is a cause for joy in Africa which nothing else can equal. We jealously guard our entry and our exit with ceremonies and rites of passage in between. Nothing prepares anyone for welcoming a bundle of joy in the most horrendously saddening of circumstances as typified by kidnappers’ den.
The living, the dying and the dead are at the mercy of terrorists. Even the unborn are not exempt from kidnapping. Lord have mercy!
Chroniclers will decide how to cast the reign of every king. If you ask partisans, their answers are predictably unctuous. But the word in town is that the Jonathan era now looks like the golden age. That this kind of statement has any speck of veracity is disheartening. For how long shall we do the retrogressive tango, one step forward, two steps backward?
However, more jaw-dropping is the rumour that President Jonathan is considering making a comeback to the presidential scene by contesting under the flag of his former traducers, the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC).
If Jonathan embarks on this trip of self-demystification, he will lose the halo he had won since he conceded defeat to Buhari in 2015. All things being unequal, as they will always be in Nigerian politics, Jonathan will lose the primaries. Thenceforward, he will become a humiliated elephant trapped in a massive pit, like the one in the unforgettable Yoruba folktale.
Elephant was the lord of the jungle. His size commanded respect and adulation from fellow jungle dwellers. He was regarded as a symbol of affluence, greatness and power. Although a herbivore, he was equally respected by carnivorous animals who plotted for days on end to demystify the kingsize beast.
Tortoise won the contract to bring Elephant to ruination. Being the cheeky little devil that he was, Tortoise immediately ruled out violence from his plans. Woe betide any animal on which an elephant falls! Cunning does it, Tortoise kept reminding himself.
From the beginning of time, man and beast have always succumbed to flattery and praise-singing. Feed the ego and the target becomes an unthinking dancer. Tortoise paid a visit to Elephant with the news that all the inhabitants of the forest had voted to crown him King of the Jungle. Elephant was adorned in outlandish royal apparel, the type that had never before been seen in the forest. All he was required to do was dance majestically to the throne prepared in the marketplace and receive homage from all animals big and small.
Before D-Day, Tortoise commissioned labourers to dig a massive pit and arranged for the best velvet carpets befitting royalty to be spread on it. He then positioned a golden throne which could be seen from afar, resplendent in the sun.
The route from Elephant’s home to the coronation site was lined by animals of all shapes and sizes. They clapped and danced as their King-elect swayed majestically to the beats of the talking drum and the chanting of the praise singers:
A ó mérin joba, èwèkú ewele
A ó mérin joba, èwèkú ewele
A ó mérin joba, èwèkú ewele
This was to be a historic day in the life of the Elephant. He danced as he had never done before. The ecstasy was stratospheric. Elephant thanked his stars for his good fortune. He remembered that in some climes, he was regarded as the god of the estuary where freshwater rivers meet the salty sea. In others, he was the deity of wellness, physician to other deities, hunter of the land and sea.
It was in the midst of this rumination and the din of drumming and dancing and praise singing that Elephant stepped on the stage to claim the throne as king… As he was falling into the massive ditch below, he remembered the saying of his late grandpa: “He who insists on being his own teacher will be the pupil of a fool”.
Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan should do himself and his admirers a favour: Cast away this elephantine shadow occluding his vision and return to bask in the warmth of his richly deserved status as an international statesman and national icon.